Having the right pictures can make all the difference to your website and online marketing materials but it isn’t always possible to create these images yourself when you’re running a small business. Stock images provide an affordable and convenient way to get the best pictures for your business.

What Are Stock Images?

Stock images are professionally produced pictures that you can use without having to pay royalties. When you use stock photos you will usually only be required to pay a small, one-off fee to the website that provides them if you’re planning to use them for business purposes.

The person who created the image will still retain ownership of their work but you will be able to use it under certain terms. It is essential to check the terms of the license when you are choosing your pictures. For example, you may be able to use them on your website but not on the products that you are going to sell.

The main advantages of stock images are that they are cheaper and more convenient than producing your own pictures. You will have a huge variety of different pictures to choose from, with all kinds of styles and content. You will be able to find high quality images produced by professional photographers, without having to pay for their services yourself. Using stock images can be much more affordable than bringing in a professional to create something just for your business. It can also help you to get higher quality images than you would be able to produce if you tried to take them yourself.

However, there are some potential downsides to stock images. The main issue is that these pictures will be available to other people and businesses too. You could see the same pictures being used elsewhere, including by your competitors. You will also be missing out on the opportunity to show off your own products, people or premises if you rely on stock images alone. Potential customers won’t be seeing the real you, which could make it harder to build a connection with them.

Copyright and Stock Images

If you want to use pictures that you have found online for your business then it is essential to be aware of the copyright law that applies to the image. You should always check the copyright terms the creator has attached to the image. If you use an image without permission or you break the terms of the license then the owner of the image can ask you to take it down, request payment for unauthorised use of their property or take legal action against you.

  • Images in the public domain are copyright-free so you can use them however you like BUT if you are using these for commercial purposes, i.e. to print onto t-shirts etc, you will most likely need permission and to pay a licence fee
  • Free to use or creative common licenses allow use of pictures as long as you credit the creator, but they may only allow personal use and not business use
  • Royalty free copyrights are included when buying stock images from agency website, but there may be some restrictions on use so you should check the terms of the license, for example you might be able to use on a website, but not in a printed brochure
  • You can ask the copyright holder of any image for permission to use it, which may require payment of royalties

Finding Your Stock Images Online

The best way to ensure that you’re following the copyright terms correctly is to source your photos through a stock image service.

  • Pexels, which provides free images and videos for both personal and commercial use. It’s one of the best options for small businesses seeking affordable images to use online.
  • iStockphoto has a high-quality selection of images that you can buy using credits (from £20 for three) or through a subscription (starting at £45 a month). The standard license allows you to use images on your website and in adverts but you can also buy an extended license if you want to produce paper products or other items.
  • Shutterstock provides some creative tools such as the Showcase which can find images with a particular style or composition. It can also match you with creators if you want to commission custom content, although this will be pricier than using their stock images.

I have used the paid-for packages within Shutterstock and Thinkstock photos – it takes some time to search through to find exactly what is required. It’s a good idea to create a lightbox and add a few images over time, so that you can group or theme your images.

Tips for Finding the Best Stock Images

Pictures can say a lot about your business so it is vital to choose them carefully. Make sure that the style and content of the picture matches your brand image and try to avoid going for the obvious picture or relying on stereotypes. Asking for some second opinions is a good way to ensure the picture is sharing the right message. You can also edit the photo once you’ve licensed it, for example by cropping it, changing the colour settings or adding text.

Performing a Google image search for the picture you’ve selected is also a good idea as it will reveal where else it is being used. If the picture is too common, it’s already being used by your competitors, or it’s associated with any popular memes then you may want to choose something different.